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These were among the heartbreaking findings of a Community Affairs References Committee inquiry in 2011 and 2012. The recommendations led to a national apology and ongoing records tracing and counselling support for parents and children who were forcibly separated.

The committee found the stigma associated with single mothers in this period contributed to a belief children were better off with two adoptive parents and resulted in the adoption of as many as 150,000 babies. It was thought a ‘clean break’ was best for mother and child so few women were allowed to hold or even see their babies after the birth.

Generally, mothers received no information about options other than adoption and those who resisted were placed under great pressure to change their minds. Some mothers reported being shamed and abused by nursing staff, or were shackled during labour. Fathers were deliberately left off birth certificates, and once a child was adopted, the birth certificate reissued in the adoptive parent’s names, making it difficult to trace birth family.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Parliament House, 21 March 2013, DPS Auspic

National Apology for Forced Adoptions

The Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard, delivered a formal apology to people affected by past forced adoption policies and practices at Parliament House on 21 March 2013.

Although adoption laws are a state and territory responsibility, the committee believed the federal government contributed to forced adoption practices by making it harder for unmarried mothers to obtain social security benefits than other mothers, and considered the federal government ‘the only institution capable of extending the apology to everyone affected’. In 2010 the Western Australian Parliament became the first Australian parliament to make a formal apology, in response to the committee’s recommendations. The other states and the ACT have since followed suit.

‘The pain never goes away, that we all gave away our babies. We were told to forget what happened, but we cannot. It will be with us all our lives.’
Ms Kim Lawrence, Submission 268

‘As soon as my daughter was born she was separated from me. I was drugged … For five days I was subjected to an enormous amount of pressure. On the fifth day, I needed to sign a piece of paper giving permission for a blood test for my daughter. The paper was folded, and underneath two signatures were required. The underneath piece of paper was a relinquishment.’
Ms Christen Coralive, Committee Hansard, 26 October 2011

During tabling of the committee’s report in February 2012, deputy chair Senator Claire Moore described the event that led her to advocate for the inquiry:

‘Five years ago in my office in Brisbane, three women came to see me. They brought some pictures and a couple of books that they had written, and they brought their pain and their anger and their disgust, because no-one had believed what had happened to them. I was sitting listening to them at that time and I personally could not believe that in my country, in places that I knew, to people with whom I had worked, the experiences that they told me about had happened.’

Hear the full speech:

Find out more

National Apology for Forced Adoptions: apology excerpt

Website, National Archives of Australia